Sunday, November 18

Tribute to a peacekeeper … Shimon Peres


Tribute to a peacekeeper … Shimon Peres

By Guy Ziv

One year has passed since Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met on the South Lawn of the White
House for the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles.
This agreement laid the foundation for Palestinian self-government
in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. After decades
of bitter strife, the PLO finally recognized the State of Israel’s
right to exist in peace and security and renounced the use of
terrorism and other acts of violence. In return, Israel’s Labor-led
government, which was elected in June 1992 on the platform of
trading territories for peace, agreed to recognize the PLO as the
legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The world has
hailed the three men who joined ranks to secure the agreement
­ Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres ­ as bold leaders who saw an opportunity to
transform the Middle East from a region of hatred and hostility
into a region of peace and cooperation.

This historic agreement took place too late in the year for
these men to have received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, but the
conventional wisdom is that they will be awarded this important
prize later this year, when the ceremonial presentation for the
Nobel Peace Prize takes place in Oslo, on Dec. 10.

While it can be argued that Arafat, Rabin and Peres equally
deserve this cherished prize, it is really the Israeli Foreign
Minister who comes closest to meeting the general principles
governing this award. The founder of the Nobel Prizes, Alfred
Bernhard Nobel, stated in his will that the awards should annually
be made "to those, who, during the preceding year, shall have
conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" in the fields of
physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.
Clearly, Rabin and Arafat were vital players in the accord reached
between Israel and the PLO. Without these two individuals’
approval, the agreement would bear little, if any, weight. But the
peace signing ceremony in Washington last year would not have taken
place had it not been for the initiative of Peres, who achieved the
breakthrough in Oslo after months of secret negotiations with
senior PLO officials.

Under the American-sponsored Middle East peace talks that began
in Madrid in Oct. 1991, the Palestinian negotiators lacked the
power to make their own decisions, because the PLO, which was
officially excluded from these talks, was making the important
decisions from Tunis. Peres understood early on that the Madrid
formula was a waste of time and that an alternative way would have
to be found in order to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
He, therefore, suggested to his boss that Israel begin negotiating
clandestinely with the PLO. Rabin approved of his Foreign
Minister’s idea, although he doubted the plan would break the
impasse with the Palestinians.

On Aug. 20, 1993, less than a month before the ceremony in
Washington took place, the momentous breakthrough was reached. A
shrewd negotiator, Peres was successful in getting the PLO to
recognize Israeli right to exist within secure borders, accept U.N.
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and renounce terrorism and
other forms of violence. The Government of Israel agreed to
withdraw from Gaza and Jericho and allow the Palestinians to govern
themselves. The autonomy accord would serve as a future
stepping-stone toward a future Palestinian homeland.

The accord, dubbed the Gaza-Jericho plan, which was finally
implemented last May, has not been without its share of problems.
The Palestinians are frustrated due to the lack of improvement of
their quality of life under the new Palestinian Authority. The
Israelis are disappointed with the PLO’s ineptness in dealing with
Hamas terrorist attacks on Israelis and its failure to amend its
charter, parts of which call for the destruction of Israel. But the
majority of Israelis and Palestinians realize that there is no
feasible alternative to Oslo. They understand that the road to
peace is a long one, that the struggle for peace is far from over.
Compromises will have to continue to be made on both sides if peace
is to be attained.

The Gaza-Jericho plan, which directly involves the Palestinians,
also has far-reaching implications for Israel’s relations with its
surrounding Arab neighbors. It has enabled Jordan to sign a pact
with Israel, which ended the official state of war between the two
countries. Morocco soon followed, agreeing to low-level ties and
expanded trade and tourism with the Jewish state. Tunisia will
likely be the next country to join the growing trend in the Arab
world to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

It cannot be overstated that the Israelis and the Arabs are
negotiating not out of love, but out of sheer necessity. Israel
cannot continue to pay the tremendous economic, moral and political
costs associated with the occupation. The Arabs, including the PLO,
can no longer depend on a now-defunct Soviet superpower for their
military and financial needs. They have finally come to the
realization that Israel is not a temporary entity, but a permanent
Jewish homeland. They are finally beginning to understand that war
will give them nothing, that peace is their best hope for
prosperity.

The Middle East leaders who once waged war are now waging peace.
But whereas some leaders are focusing almost exclusively on how to
achieve this peace, the Israeli Foreign Minister is going one step
­ a major step ­ further by exploring the myriad of
possibilities that will be available once peace is realized. For
Peres, peace is not merely an end in itself, but a means to a much
greater end. He envisions, among other things, a Middle East Common
Market; a regional security system; a joint research institute for
desert management and joint Arab-Israeli projects, such as a Red
Sea-Dead Sea canal and the development of hydroelectric power for
electricity and desalinization.

To be true to the ideals of Alfred Bernhard Nobel, the Peace
Prize should go to Shimon Peres, the visionary leader who has made
it his mission to end the 100-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and bring about prosperity to the Middle East. Giving the Nobel
Peace Prize to the man who negotiated the historic peace deal in
the very city in which the prize is annually presented will be more
than a case of poetic justice. It will reward a leader who
represents boldness, vision and ingenuity; a leader who is helping
to build a new Middle East for the 21st century.

Guy Ziv is a USC graduate student of international relations who
is enrolled in a UCLA class sponsored by the UCLA-USC Joint Center
for International Studies.

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